Ambedkar and the Environmental Tradition

The 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar was celebrated in April 2016 all around, so much so that the United Nations, for the first time, observed this day with a focus on achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As we know, the 17 goals along with 169 targets and 304 indicators, adopted in September 2015, aspire to transform our world by balancing the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. The ‘plan of action for people, planet and prosperity’ has environment at its core, along with poverty and inequality: to ‘protect planet’, create ‘healthy environment’, and ensure equality, dignity and development ‘in harmony with nature’. And Ambedkar is found in this regard to be an apt and inspiring leader.

The world can see traces of Ambedkar’s vision in the SDGs and can find his views relevant for environmental sustainability, but not the Indian environmentalists! Indian environmental movements marginalize Ambedkar. From a historical past, environmental scholars have placed Gandhi at the apex of their inspiration. Recently, Nehru and Indira Gandhi too have been constructed through an ecological lens. However, Ambedkar’s engagement with the environmental question has been relatively unexplored, even when his thoughts and interventions on nature, village, land, agriculture, water, community, industry, technology and science are some of the enduring issues of India’s environmental and political traditions. In comparison with Gandhi, credited with having an intuitive critique of modern civilization, Ambedkar has often been criticized for his modernization vision, which it is argued, drew heavily on the west for inspiration (Nagaraj 2010: 56-7)

Continue reading “Ambedkar and the Environmental Tradition”

Cow-Gangs of Akhand Bharat and the Dalit Revolt – Hindutva Unravels

As the cow-gangs of Hindutva go on a rampage and the the prime minister, Narendra Modi, adopts a posture of strategic silence, the country is rapidly being pushed to the brink of a civil war. This might sound a trifle far-fetched but classically, when large numbers of people begin to believe that there is no government for them, the time is not far when they will start making preparations for defending themselves. It started with the attacks on Muslims but soon enveloped the Dalits as it was bound to. The Una incident, which sparked off a veritable revolt, was followed up by subsequent attacks in Lucknow. The Progressive Dairy Farmers’ Association in Punjab, involving large number of Sikh farmers, has also been fighting continuing harassment and violence by cow-gangs of Hindutva in Punjab for some time now. The PDFA president has also stated that they might be forced to act in self-defense. The president Daljit Singh Gill, in fact, reportedly told mediapersons that “(I)f someone attacks the farmers, we will stop them now,” and “(I)f something goes wrong, it is the government’s responsibility.”

Even as the cow-gangs continue with their vigilantism unrestrained and unchecked, a large demonstration yesterday at Jantar Mantar by Samta Sainik Dal, actually sent out yet another signal. It spokespersons said in so many words that they were now prepared to take on the cow-gangs physically, if and where necessary.

Tracing SSD’s lineage back to Dr Ambedkar’s initiative in the 1924, the President of the organization openly blamed the ‘Manuvadi’ forces, in cahoots with the police and bureaucracy, backed by the government. He was candid that it is not the Sikhs or Muslims or Christians who are attacking the Dalits today but the Hindus who are doing it in the name of nationalism and that people were now in a mood to fight back unitedly together.

Not only is Modi’s deafening silence now coming to be seen as a sign of encouragement and complicity, with BJP leaders like Hyderabad MLA Raja Singh openly justifying the Una attack, and no action being taken against him by the party yet, it is clear that this vigilantism is endorsed by the highest quarters in the party. For those who may have missed seeing Raja Singh’s video, this is what he said:

“Jo Dalit gaye ke maas ko le ja raha tha, jo uski pitai hui hai, woh bohut hi achhi hui hai (Those Dalits who were taking the cow, the cow meat, those who were beaten, it was a very good thing to happen).

Continue reading “Cow-Gangs of Akhand Bharat and the Dalit Revolt – Hindutva Unravels”

Cow Vigilantism as Terror : New Socialist Initiative

Guest Post by  New Socialist Initiative

Can the Saffron Establishment ever wash its hands of the growing menace?

(For Hindi version, click the link http://nsi-delhi.blogspot.in/2016/07/blog-post_26.html)

( Courtesy : Cartoonist Satish Acharya, https://www.facebook.com/cartoonistsatishacharya/)

Cow vigilantism which has received tremendous boost since the ascendance of BJP at the centre got its first fitting reply in Gujarat recently. The way in which a self-proclaimed Gau Rakshak Dal – owing allegiance to Shiv Sena – attacked a group of Dalits in Una (11 th July 2016) who were skinning a dead cow, publicly flogged them, led them to the police station charging them with cow slaughter and even circulated a video of the whole incident on social media to spread further terror, has caused tremendous uproar. Continue reading “Cow Vigilantism as Terror : New Socialist Initiative”

Slow violence and the Spectacle – Dispossession, segregation, and the Chennai Floods: Priti Narayan

Guest post by PRITI NARAYAN

[This article is followed by a detailed survey report on the losses sustained by people during the Chennai floods, which can be read here.]

“How, in an age that venerates the instant and the spectacular, can one turn attritional calamities starring nobody into stories dramatic enough to rouse public sentiment,” asks scholar Rob Nixon, in his discussion of Rachel Carson’s seminal 1962 book Silent Spring. It is a question worth asking now, in the aftermath of the floods in Chennai.

The floods were spectacular, the initial neglect by the national Indian media notwithstanding. Enough has been written about both about the floods themselves, and the spectacle of thousands of Chennai residents pouring onto the streets and into the water to undertake rescue, relief and rehabilitation work. Now that the spectacle is fading and the celebration of the city’s spirit is dying down, perhaps we can examine the floods more objectively. Not that the deluge has not deserved the attention it has received – reports estimate that over 400 lives have been claimed, and anywhere between 1.8 to 2 million people have been displaced.

But we do not talk as much about the “attritional calamity” that involves the dispossession of the poor of their land  and their subsequent displacement to the peripheries of the city.The lack of affordable housing stock has historically led the poor to occupy land in the central city, from where they access livelihood and educational opportunities. Their location in the city has enabled them to contribute invaluable labour and services to the city’s economy. Off late however, development projects are putting immense pressure on land in the Indian city. Strategies to make a world class city –“beautification”, “development” and “eco-restoration” – envision no place for the poor in Chennai.Transparent Cities Network estimates that at least 1,50,000people from 63 slums have been displaced for development projects over the course of the last 15 years. Not all those displaced have been rehabilitated: at least 22,000 people have been left homeless. There are no estimates of the number of people who have died during displacement or after resettlement, but the instances of crime(including trafficking, prostitution, and mafia-style murders) and suicides in these government-created ghettoes tell a sordid tale. Continue reading “Slow violence and the Spectacle – Dispossession, segregation, and the Chennai Floods: Priti Narayan”

Anti-Conversion and Ghar Wapsi, Or Hindutva’s Doublespeak: Charu Gupta

Guest post by CHARU GUPTA

The synchronised vocabulary of anti-conversion by the BJP and that of reconversion by the VHP and Dharm Jagran Samiti, an RSS affiliate, reveals the intimate relationship between the two. Anti-conversion and reconversion are two sides of the same coin. Even though the Dharm Jagran Samiti dropped its plan to ‘reconvert’ 4000 Christians and 1000 Muslim families in Aligarh on 25 December, due to pressures from a parliament in session as well as other protests, the day has had strategic significance. Christmas Day has been given a different meaning by the Hindutva brigade — the birth anniversaries of Madan Mohan Malaviya, one of the stalwarts of the Hindu Mahasabha, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the eminent BJP leader. Equally critically, on 23 December 1926 Swami Shraddhanand, the leading ideologue of the shuddhi movement (purification; Hindu movement in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries to reclaim those who had converted from Hinduism to other religions) was assassinated by a Muslim fanatic, and on 25 December, a condolence motion was moved at the Guawhati session of the Congress.

The twin strategies of anti-conversion and ghar wapsi have a long history and past, which saw its efflorescence in the shuddhi movement, but have become much more aggressive in the present context. As part of their community and nation making rhetoric, the Arya Samaj and the Hindu Mahasabha had launched the programme of shuddhi on a large scale in Uttar Pradesh in 1923. Though Arya Samaj had stronger roots in Punjab, shuddhi movement was more effective in UP. Various scholars have pointed to the communal character of the movement. A note prepared by the criminal investigation department at that time stated that though the movement had older origins, ‘its application to mass rather than individual conversion gave it a special prominence’ in 1923. Shuddhi came to be touted as a movement to reclaim the ‘victims’ and protect the ‘faithful’. Reconversion attempts have since been a part of agenda of various Hindutva outfits, and the present assertions should be seen in that context. Today, organisations like the VHP and Dharm Jagran Samiti have acquired a new importance and are emboldened to not only challenge conversions in an organised manner, but also to simultaneously aggressively campaign for reconversion. Just as shuddhi became an instrument for Hindu communal mobilization in early twentieth century, ghar wapsi is fulfilling the same role today. Continue reading “Anti-Conversion and Ghar Wapsi, Or Hindutva’s Doublespeak: Charu Gupta”

The Indian Illusion: Shashank Kela

Guest post by SHASHANK KELA

Some time ago, I wrote an article seeking to dissect certain myths about Indian politics – and the class that dominates it, despite protestations to the contrary, the middle-class.[1] It is one of the habits of this class to see, and self-pityingly portray itself as victim – of mass politics, reservation policies, the great unwashed, of politicos bent upon appeasing the poor at the cost of sound principles and policies. Its conviction, of course, is that India was great, and on the cusp of becoming so again. This unfading glory is no more to be disputed than the existence of the sun, although opinions differ upon the precise placement of our golden age.

To the rabid fanatics of Hindutva, it resides in an unspecified Vedic time, when Hindus (not Indians) mysteriously succeeded in inventing aeroplanes, dynamite, nuclear weapons, the wheel, zero, and what have you (and mysteriously losing most of these wonderful things). To the Nehruvians, it is the age of Akbar, Ashoka, Harsha, periods of syncreticism and unique tolerance, where people of different faiths lived together peacefully and a composite culture flowered. To them, and to Gandhians, it also resides in the figure of Gandhi and the tradition of practical spirituality. To the fanatics of Islam, it is probably the age of Alauddin Khilji, the reign of Aurangzeb, and so on.

The never-ending debate about India’s pasts contains a diversity of opinions; however, on its future destiny, these begin to converge. The RSS and BJP believe, for example, that India is destined to become a great industrial power. So did Nehru, and assorted Indian Marxists. Indeed, it is an article of faith for the burgeoning middle-class (mostly, but not entirely Hindu) that India can, should and will equal China to become a great power, economic and military (thus leaving Japan and South Korea in the dust). Continue reading “The Indian Illusion: Shashank Kela”

Laxmanpur Bathe, Then and Now: Monobina Gupta

Guest post by MONOBINA GUPTA

I remember a chill running down my spine that early afternoon in 1998. I was standing at Laxmanpur Bathe – the site of a cold-blooded massacre a year ago. Then a reporter with The Telegraph, I was touring Bihar, reporting on the 1998 general elections, less than two years after the United Front government came to power. Bihar was then firmly under the thumb of the redoubtable Lalu Prasad. Tensions between the Maoist Coordination Committee (MCC) and the Ranvir Sena, a private army of upper caste landlords, were running high. Every reporter visiting the area had been advised by the district magistrates concerned not to travel after sundown. Newspapers in Delhi were full of stories about Bihar’s lawlessness, extortions and abductions even in broad daylight.

I had read details of that deadly night in the newspapers; and then of the sudden trips made by VIP cavalcades to the village in the aftermath of the bloodbath. The massacre had pitched the forgotten hamlet of Dalits into the glaring spotlight. Crowds of politicians and media descended on the spot, even as the grief stricken survivors were struggling with the shock of the attack and the terrible loss of their loved ones. Continue reading “Laxmanpur Bathe, Then and Now: Monobina Gupta”